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home : schools : schools June 24, 2016

3/3/2014 5:14:00 PM
New school Referendum: Your choice

By David Richards

We'll know in a week.

On March 11, residents of Byron Public Schools will decide whether to give the district the green light to build a new facility for pre-kindergarten through second grades.

The referendum needs a majority to pass, with the new structure opening in 2016 at a cost of roughly $25 million if it does.

Officials say a new school is important for two primary reasons: 1) All-day every day kindergarten begins in the near future for Byron and 2) The district is growing.

The new school, which will be built on the same site as Byron Elementary, would open two years following the start of all-day every day kindergarten, which kicks off during the 2014-2015 school year.

As far as growth is concerned, resident enrollment has increased by 5.8 percent in Byron over the past 10 years and is projected to increase another 16.7 percent to 20.3 percent in the next decade, a projection made before the passage of Destination Medical Center.

Because of those two primary factors, Jeff Elstad, superintendent of Byron Public Schools, said the new facility is needed.

"I feel this is another important piece we can add to our education system so that we are ready for the growth that's coming," he said.

The last time the district held a referendum was in 2004.

Funds from that bond ultimately built the new Byron High School. The new high school went to voters twice, including in 2002 when it failed. The scaled down version passed two years later.

More than 2,000 voters turned out for each of those votes.

Elstad said that unlike in 2002, the current referendum is different in that if it fails, it would be hard to scale down.

"This isn't a high school package where we can take off an auditorium or an athletic stadium...," he said. "This is a pretty straight forward ask of the community. It's a building with no extras added to the building."

Elstad added that if it fails, the decision would go back to the school board on what to do next.

Elstad also said he understands there are those voters who, even if they are in favor of a new school, might not be able to afford a property tax increase, which comes out to $80 annually for a residential homestead valued at $150,000, all the way up to $287 annually for a homestead valued at $800,000.

"That's something I certainly feel for those voters," Elstad said. "I'm here to present the information and the facts we know ... I look at it as something bigger than we are and that is our future."

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